’80s nostalgia usually focuses on the decade at its most outlandish: big hair, Day-glo shirts, scrunchies, New Coke… call it the Stranger Things effect. And that goes doubly for the music. Pop on most any ’80s playlist and you’re bound to hear the same cycle of kitchy, seemingly alien vintage pop: synthy goth songs, lite hip-hop, the occasional punk infusion and a whole lot of hair metal.
But the '80s sound was so much more than the sum of its eccentricities, and there's a huge difference between an ‘80s song’ and a ‘song from the 80s.’ This is the decade that gave us Prince and Madonna, MJ and NWA. New Wave stalwarts like Talking Heads and Devo found new grooves while transcendent artists like Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon offered up some of the best work of their careers. And as the decade wore on, rap’s wave turned into a tsunami that changed the face of pop music.
In gathering our list of the ’80s very best, there was a lot to consider: Lasting impact, cultural relevance, actual musicianship, catchiness, coolness and, of course, nostalgia. But mostly, we curated with maximum enjoyment in mind while limiting the list to one song per artist. From genre-defining works of genius to ear-worm flights of fancy, these are the best songs of the 'Æ0s. And don’t get your scrunchies in a bunch: Some hair metal definite snuck in.
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